Recently, I’ve been researching state lunch and break laws, as well as other work-hour related issues. In Michigan, the state law only regulates the meal breaks for employees under the age of 18. State law mandates that employees ages 14 to 17 be given a 30 minute meal break if they have worked five hours or more. This may be an unpaid break.
While Michigan law does not have any lunch and break provisions for workers 18 and over, residents of the state should know that they are covered by several federal regulations.
Federal law does not mandate any specific meal or rest breaks. It does, however, give guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times. Short breaks (usually 20 minutes or less) should be counted as hours worked. True “meal periods” are usually 30 minutes or more, and do not need to be paid as work time. During an unpaid meal break, a worker must be completely free of his or her work duties. If the employee is still required to do any duties (even minor duties such as answering a phone), it can’t be considered a meal or lunch period and must be paid.
Federal law also contains regulations related to employee pay during times of waiting, sleeping and traveling. Whether or not waiting time needs to be considered paid work hours depends on the circumstances.
If an employee is at the workplace and allowed to do something of his or her choosing while waiting for one task to be finished or for another to begin, it is generally considered paid work time. A common example of this might be a fire fighter reading a book at the station while waiting for fire calls. On the other hand, if an employee is “on call” at home or elsewhere and waiting to be called upon, it is not generally considered paid work time. For this to be the case the employee must also have great freedom to do what he or she wishes while on call and have plenty of time to respond to the calls.
When it comes to travel time, the principle to observe is that time spent in the normal day’s commute to and from work is not considered paid working time. However, if an employee is traveling in the course of a days work, it must be considered paid work time.
Another final issue of interest may be sleeping time. An employee required to be on duty less than 24 hours is considered to be “working” even if he or she is permitted to sleep during some of those hours when not busy. If an employee is on duty more than 24 hours, a sleeping period of no more than eight hours may be subtracted from work hours. However, this can only be done if sleeping quarters are provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employee.
A listing of state and federal regulations relating to lunch and break law may be found on the Michigan Complete Labor Law Poster. This poster also features information on all other state and federal labor law requirements.